Sunday, March 05, 2017

Cheap stamp duty: Victoria's package looks good

Stamp duty is the worst tax in Australia, so bad that according to calculations by the federal Treasury for the aborted tax white paper, it destroys 70¢ of economic value for each dollar collected. Yet more than most governments, Victoria is addicted to it.

So the state has done the next best thing to axing it. It's cut it where it will most help people get into the housing market, and reimposed it where it's lack has been most hurting them.

Until now there's been a stamp duty exemption for off-the-plan buyers of apartments. From July this will be axed for investors, and available only to buyers who intend to live in the property or are eligible for the first home buyer stamp duty concession.

Cleverly, reimposing stamp duty for off-the-plan investors will raise almost as much as axing stamp duty for low-price first home buyers will cost, leaving the budget little changed.

First home buyers shelling out up to $750,000 will be better able to outbid investors and existing home owners, and investors in off-the-plan units will be less able to outbid them.

Will that extra buying power push up prices? Possibly, but only to the extent that it actually helps first home buyers.

And if it's not enough, the government is also offering HomesVic, a pilot program in which 400 people will get a chance to co-purchase a home with the government, which will take an equity share of up to 25 per cent and get its money back (plus price growth) when the property is eventually sold.

This is modelled on a scheme recommended to prime minister John Howard in 2003 but never adopted.

The 1 per cent tax on vacant properties won't hurt either. It will encourage owners to either sell them or fill them by renting them out.

Premier Daniel Andrews and Treasurer Tim Pallas have paid attention to the needs of renters too, recognising that people who can't buy their own houses need the same sort of security of tenure as those who can.

It's a sign of just how well thought out the Victorian package is that north of the border, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is talking about making parts of it her own.

In The Age and Sydney Morning Herald